Following Christ today
In our time some Christians identify themselves as “Christ Followers.” The term appeals to me because it delivers more meaning than simply describing oneself as a “Christian.” It subtly conveys the truth that Christ is alive and I am following him.
When Dean and I were in a boat on the beautiful Sea of Galilee, I wondered what it was like that day when four fishermen heard Jesus say, “Come, follow me.” Peter, Andrew, James and John were ordinary men, fishing for a living, and tending their nets. Their way of life was abruptly interrupted by Jesus’ words, “Follow me.” They could hardly have understood what it would mean to follow Jesus but, amazingly, “At once they left their nets and followed him.”
The gospels describe how the other disciples left what they were doing and accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Levi the tax collector, for example, was sitting at his tax booth, minding his own business, when Jesus walked by, stopped and said simply to Levi, “Follow me.” Immediately, “Levi got up and followed him.”
When Jesus began his ministry, walking from one town to another, preaching, teaching and healing, large crowds began following him. That soon became a problem because so many people want to touch him so they might be healed. So Mark tells us in his Gospel, “Because of the crowd he (Jesus) told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him.”
After his resurrection more and more people began following Jesus until today the number of adherents of Christianity is 2.4 billion, though not all of them are serious “Christ Followers.” The question that begs to be answered is why the early disciples followed Jesus and why millions follow him today.
The best answer for me is the magnetism of Jesus. There is something magnetic about the person and presence of Jesus. Some hear the call early in life and rise up and follow him. Others feel a tugging at the heart, often for years, which culminates in a decision to begin following Jesus. All who follow Christ seriously sense that God is up to something and they long to experience the meaning and joy that others have found.
What does it mean to follow Christ? What does it mean to follow anyone? To follow another means much more than to “trail” someone; its deeper meaning is to admire, enjoy, support, respect and obey that person. Think of the rich significance that has for Christ Followers! Christ is a Person! He is alive! He is the ultimate example of how to live! Obedience strengthens our connection to him! The more that we love and serve him, “the sweeter he grows”!
Following Christ involves far more than a casual connection to the Christian faith. A true follower has a vital connection to the living Christ. A halfhearted Christian may “prefer” Christianity over the other religions of the world. An authentic Christ Follower has joyfully embraced the truth that Christ is the “one and only Son of God” who can save us from our sins and give us the gift of eternal life.
If you ask, what is your life like if you follow Christ in today’s world, this is my answer:
1. You grasp the essentials of the gospel.
You believe that Jesus is the Son of God who lived, suffered, died on the cross and was resurrected by the power of God. You believe there is no salvation apart from Christ and that by trusting him you can be baptized, cleansed of your sins and receive the gift of eternal life. You heard him call your name. You answered his call, surrendered your life to him and trusted him for salvation. You received from him the gift of the Holy Spirit who now guides your life. You still have flaws and you don’t live a perfect life but you have a growing desire to please Christ in all you say and do.
2. You live with continual gratitude for God’s mercy.
Why is “Amazing Grace” the song most loved by Christians across the world? Because we all identify with the phrase, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” You never forget the joy of hearing the living Christ say to you, “Your sins are forgiven.”
3. You have a constant desire to worship the Lord.
You find yourself wanting to praise God every day, not just on Sunday. You want to give him glory, to thank him for your blessings, especially for his mercy in getting you connected to Christ. You enjoy reading the Bible more than ever. You are feeding on his Word and as you read the scriptures, you find yourself praising God for the peace and joy of knowing Christ.
4. You want other people to know Christ.
You don’t want to be obnoxious but you want to witness to your faith and your love for Christ. You want to love others into the kingdom of God. Knowing that Jesus taught the early disciples to “fish for men,” you want him to teach you how to be his witness. More and more you care deeply for others to find the joy and peace that Christ alone can give to the human heart.
5. You live in perpetual surrender to Christ.
You surrendered to Christ at the beginning of your journey but you discovered that following Christ requires daily surrender. You take seriously what he said about the cross: “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” So, you ask him to show you how to do that daily. In the face of hardship, even bewildering circumstances, you learn to say to yourself, “If with tears I must serve Christ, then with tears I will serve him. I belong to him. He belongs to me. Whatever he asks of me, I will do it with the strength he gives me.” Then, often in the midst of heartache, you find that he gives you joy and peace you never dreamed of having. This reinforces your desire to honor Christ in every way possible.
6. You are unwilling to settle for a nominal relationship to Christ.
The more you follow Christ, and enjoy the strength he provides, the more you want to be the best you can be for him. A weak, pathetic relationship to Christ is out of the question. You are inspired by the zeal of other Christians – like for example that of C. T. Studd. A wealthy Englishman, he surrendered to Christ and sold everything so he could take the gospel to the world. Studd went first to China, then to India, and in retirement to Sudan. Your heart is pulsating as you read Studd’s last words: “Too long have we been waiting for one another to begin! The time for waiting is past! Should such men as we fear? Before the whole world, yes before the sleepy, lukewarm, faithless, namby-pamby Christian world, we will dare to trust our God, and we will do it with his joy unspeakable singing aloud in our hearts. We will a thousand times sooner die trusting only in our God than live trusting in man.” Hearing of such passion to serve Christ drives you to your knees to rededicate your life to his work.
Does Christ still invite his disciples to follow him? His missionary servant Albert Schweitzer believed he does when he penned these words: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
Over 70 years of ministry I have closed many worship services by asking people to respond to Christ by making their own the decision that of a simple song; so dear reader, if you are not already a Christ Follower, today I offer you that same invitation:
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.
It’s one decision you will never regret! + + +